KQED’s October issue of The Guide has a little piece about the new Jacques Pépin show, More Fast Food My Way, premiering this Saturday. I must to admit to snorting when I saw that the article’s timeline of a day in the life of the show started at 10:30 a.m., because the back kitchen was there between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m., and Jacques himself was in not too much later.
We’d all be prepping, and he’d come in for his coffee blanched with Straus cream. After a few sips, he’d quietly look around at what we were doing and that’s when we knew it was our time. Laura Pauli (Cucina Testa Rossa around these and other parts) told me that every morning working on this show — she’s worked on past shows with him — was nothing less than a private cooking lesson with Jacques Pépin. She could not have been more right. Except, they weren’t just cooking lessons, they were lifelong memories.
Going down the line, Jacques would answer any questions we had about the recipes and explain in detail — often demonstrating or watching and correcting — exactly how he wanted the fish portioned or how much of the broccoli he wanted trimmed. Because Jacques is the eternal teacher, he wanted to demonstrate his prepping and cooking techniques as much as possible on the show. He didn’t want everything done for him, all neat and tidy and magic-of-television perfect. So, if he had a special way of drumming out pomegranate seeds that hadn’t been filmed yet, he wanted to be able to do that.
Sometimes things would change mid-stream and the prep we had done in the morning was tossed. For instance, maybe the recipe called for 1 cup leeks, diced. Well, 1 cup leeks, perfectly diced went out to the set. But maybe while going over the episode’s blocking, it was decided that we had enough time for Jacques to show how to clean and dice leeks. As food runner (the other half of my duties), it was my job to dash back to the kitchen and grab or holler out for undiced leeks, make sure the ends were trimmed just enough (not all the way, but tidied up the way Jacques liked them), and run them back to the set.
A few episodes later, I finally learned that the way to keep me from constantly running hither and yon was to have all ingredients in every possible form at the ready. If the recipe called for 1 cup leeks, diced, I had 1 cup leeks, diced. I also had whole leeks and even a few whole leeks with some — but not all — diced. Options.
Working on the show was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, made even better by Jacques’ patience and professionalism. But Jacques has a professionalism that isn’t cold or diva-ish. He’s professional in that it was almost unheard of him not to get the episode on the first take. Not just the segment, mind you, the entire episode. He also doesn’t need a script; it’s just all right there on the tip of his tongue and the front of his brain.
However, he’s warm and appreciative. He’s kind. He’s generous. There would be a wine on the set that he particularly liked and after shooting the episode, he’d bring it to the back kitchen because he was so intent on all of us experiencing it. He was interested in talking to people about them, not about himself. He spent a long time at our wrap party talking to my husband about his career as a mathematician. He spent a dinner out asking me every detail about how I got involved with food and what I want to do next.
Later, I’d realize that he spent so many early morning hours with us in the hot, cramped kitchen because that’s where he really wanted to be, in the thick of it, teaching.
Jacques Pépin: More Fast Food My Way premieres Saturday, October 4, at 10:30 a.m. on KQED TV.
The website launches October 2 and you will be able to watch video episodes online, download recipes from the show, view a behind-the-scenes slideshow of the production process and get program information.